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The Stomach of Monsieur Kornett
© Shirley Friedman 2004
Msr. Gerrard Kornett was oh-so-proud of his large curving stomach. When dressing every morning, he would stand sideways in front of the long mirror hanging on the bedroom wall, wag his head with the few long grey hairs carefully arranged across the top, purse his loose lips, rub the wart on the left side of his chin, pat his stomach and say, "Oy-oy-oy, now tell me, isn't that a fine figure of a man?"
And his reflection would complacently agree with him.
But I suppose he was right, considering how that stomach slowly swelled from the flat, narrow-shouldered chest until it was the size of a large watermelon, then curved steadily down to the skinny legs. Though he was narrow-shouldered, short, and slightly bow-legged, Msr. Kornett's fine stomach gave him an air of largesse that would otherwise be sadly lacking in a man of his physique.
Yes, it was indeed a stomach to be proud of, and so convenient to rest his weary arms on when he was taking a quick nap in his ladies' fashion shop, "Chantelle", situated on Rue St. Martin.
Next to his shop was a charcuterie run by Madame Dubois, a woman who was an advertisement for her own goods large pink hams, crisp-skinned chickens, juicy pork chops, salads of a variety to defy description, and a world of cheeses. On the other side was Silverberg's, a jewellery shop with an excessive display of wedding rings of all kinds small, large, wide, narrow, in red, white and yellow gold. Wide-eyed women were constantly gazing within, hypnotised by the array, and wetting their lips with the thought of ownership.
To get back to Msr. Kornett and his stomach - precisely at 12 o'clock on the dot, he would open the lunch box his wife, Leah, had packed for him, and feast himself upon the contents
potato latkes, pickled brisket, gherkins ah! The food in Madame Dubois' charcuterie next door tempted him not at all, not when he had in front of him a box full of Leah's superb cookery. He would tuck a serviette into the front of his shirt, arm himself with a knife and fork, and pack in the scrumptious food until there wasn't the tiniest place left for more. Then he would pat his stomach, and speak as if to a friend. "That was good, wasn't it?" he'd say.
Imagine Msr. Kornett's delight therefore, when he found that his trousers just would not cover his stomach anymore. He pulled, and he tugged, but the two ends refused to meet.
"Feigala!" he called, using his pet name for his wife, who looked less like a 'little bird' than a hippopotamus, but was once petite and vivacious. "Feigala, come see. My stomach is getting bigger."
Leah appeared in the doorway, and surveyed her husband's physique solemnly. "Yes, you're right," she agreed, "and what now?"
"What now? What do you mean what now?" cried the man, tenderly caressing the huge curve. "Now I make that shrimp, Michel Goldhammer, look like a pauper. He with his big airs, pimple of a stomach, and no money in his pockets."
"But what about your suit?" insisted Leah. "What will you wear to the shop?"
That was a different matter. Msr. Kornett thought for a moment, contemplating his reflection without really seeing it. "I'll have to buy a new one," he announced finally. "I'll go to Finkelstein's factory and get one cheap. He owes me a favour."
Soon, the paunch was encased in a new, smart pinstriped suit. In fact, the clothes were a little too loose just in case, Msr. Kornett had decided. However, it wasn't very long before
"Feigala!" Msr. Kornett called, "my trousers won't fasten."
Leah once again surveyed the scenery. She hadn't noticed it before, but all at once it became apparent that the large stomach was becoming over large. In fact, Msr. Kornett appeared to be all stomach and no Kornett. She fingered her lips thoughtfully. Something seemed wrong.
"Gerrard, I don't like it!"
"Don't like it! How can you say that? It's a beautiful stomach."
"But the rest of you is practically skin and bone." She pinched the skin of his arm between forefinger and thumb. "Look at this. Not a bit of flesh on you. I don't like it!"
Msr. Kornett was anxious not to query the whys and wherefores of his good fortune, and searched for a way to allay his wife's concern.
"It's just the result of that wonderful dinner you made for Passover," he assured Leah. "After all, you would have been upset if I didn't eat, and you yourself put on a few pounds."
"Touché!" murmured Feigala as she left the room.
"Perhaps you are enceinte," wheezed Msr. Kornett's crony at the Café that night, as they shared a bottle of Vin Rouge, "and you are going to produce a baby. Hee-hee-hee." Msr. Lyon's frail frame shook under the onslaught of his cackles. He was a stoop-shouldered man with a thin, lined face, and enormous eyes which seemed suggestive of a goitre problem. "That would be one for the medical books."
Msr. Kornett snorted. "And what would I do with a baby," he asked, tapping his paunch, "at my time of life?"
Several customers turned and raised querying eyebrows at the table where two forms, one thin, and one with an enormous stomach, were shaking with laughter to such an extent that the wine danced in their glasses.
That evening Msr. Kornett viewed the dinner table with much dismay. There was no crispy baguette, no creamy butter, no dish of fried potatoes, but just a small lettuce salad without dressing, and a few hard-boiled eggs.
"What's this?" he croaked, "where's our supper?"
"That is our supper!" stated Leah.
It's what?" The large stomach of her husband quivered with indignation. "What type of supper do you call that?"
"It's a diet supper, that's what it's called, and it's all you're going to get."
Msr. Kornett groaned. It was no use arguing with Leah when she was in one of those moods, he knew from long experience, and he resigned himself to the inevitable.
Several days passed. Each morning he studied his profile in the long mirror, but the stomach grew no smaller. He felt a constant hunger, and his face lost one of its chins, but otherwise, things remained the same. Finally, Leah announced, "I don't like it! Tomorrow we visit Dr. Levine. Whatever this is we're going to nip it in the bud."
A rather odd simile, but fairly appropriate under the circumstances because, to the Kornetts' horror, when all the necessary tests, poking and prying had been done, Dr. Levine said, "Sorry mon ami, bad news. It looks like you've got a tumour there. We've got to remove it, you know, but there's every chance that it's benign."
Msr. Kornett had no doubts in that regard. He and the good Lord had an understanding, and he knew that everything would be fine. But remove it? Then where would his lovely stomach be? he reflected, chewing on his lower lip. "It's all very well," he continued out aloud, "but it's taken me a long time to grow that stomach."
"It's not your stomach," stated Madame Kornett matter-of-factly. "It's a tumour, and it doesn't belong to you at all."
"But, what about Goldhammer? He'll be crowing like a stringy old cockerel when he hears."
"And he'll have every right to crow. After all, you're really a fraud, aren't you?"
Msr. Kornett digested this fact, and realised, as usual, Leah was right. "Oh well," he groaned, "if I'm to look like a pauper, then look like a pauper I must. It is God's will."
While Leah was packing his case for the hospital, Msr. Kornett stood in front of the mirror, talking to himself, and if anyone had crept up and listened, they would have considered him mad, crazy, out of his mind. But we, who have listened in on the workings of Msr. Kornett's mind, would have understood. Why, he was merely saying "goodbye" to his stomach
to the over-large paunch that dominated his physique. Soon it would be no more, and who knows perhaps himself too.
Happily, the surgery was successful, and a benign tumour was removed a magnificent one, the size of a cauliflower. It wasn't long before Msr. Kornett was once again at home.
The morning was sunny, the streets of Paris thronged with people enjoying the spring air, the trees budding, the birds chirping, and thousands of Parisienne women were dusting, scrubbing, and washing away the grime of winter, when Msr. Kornett once again stood before the mirror, regretfully viewing his stomach. It was still there certainly, but distinctly deflated.
"I look like a poor starving man," he thought, "without a penny in my pocket."
Just then he heard the sound of dishes being set upon the dining room table, and Leah's voice calling him to petite dejeuner. As he entered the room, the smell of potato latkes and cheese blintzes wafted across his nostrils.
"What is this?" he enquired, eyeing the loaded table.
"Sit down! Eat!" instructed Leah. "We have to build you up after such an ordeal."
Build me up? thought Msr. Kornett as he took his seat, and his Feigala brought in another delectable dish. Why yes, of course! And as he reached for his knife and fork he contemplated the wonderful array of delicious food that he would be able to partake of in the future, meal after meal stretching out to infinity, and decided that it was almost worth losing his stomach - for the enjoyment of seeing it grow again.
from the January 2006 Edition of the Jewish Magazine